Imagine a scenario in which two individuals – let’s call them John and Paul – are living in Britain. John is able to complete his school education, is financially supported through university, quickly moves into work and by the age of 30 has bought his first home. Later in life he can look forward to relative financial security and high quality public services on which he expects to increasingly rely.
Paul, on the other hand, struggles to make it through sixth form and does not go on to higher education. Few of his friends find work and home ownership is but a distant dream. The safety nets and services John enjoys are absent as Paul travels into his future armed only with uncertainty and fear.
Now imagine that what divides John and Paul’s life chances so radically is not their socio-economic class, nor other common determinants of social inequality, but simply the generation into which they were born.
Since the financial collapse hit in 2008, unemployment, negative growth and sharp contractions in state spending have arguably hit the young the hardest. The scrapping of EMA and a concurrent tripling of university tuition fees have seen applications to higher education fall 15 per cent last year. Youth unemployment has topped 1 million for the first time in decades and further cuts threaten housing benefits for the under 25s. Meanwhile, the average age of first home ownership has hit a record high of 39.
The result has been a dramatic reversal of what Ed Miliband has referred to as ‘the promise of Britain’, that each generation can expect a life of greater opportunity, prosperity and wellbeing than their parents. Today, 83 per cent of young people expect to find it harder to buy a home than the previous generation, and 72 per cent believe it will be harder to find a good job.
The impact of the economic crisis on young people has compounded a series of other burgeoning issues that long predate the recession; how to pay for climate change mitigation or adaption, demographic changes that mean ever higher dependency ratios, and how to compete for decent jobs in an increasingly globalised world.
The world over, industrialised countries are only just starting to come to terms with what all this means for their young people. Commentators in the US increasingly talk of a ‘generation screwed’, while European analysts have coined the term ‘lost generation’ to describe youth in a continent where 22 per cent of 15-24 year-olds are unemployed. In those countries hardest hit by the crisis, such as Greece and Spain, the rate is a shocking 50 per cent.
Perhaps most worrying, young people seem to be losing the sense that parliamentary democracy can protect or serve their interests. Fewer young people voted in the last general election than at any time since the war. The riots in August of last year hinted at a worrying growth in social alienation. And, increasingly, protest movements are taking these debates out of political institutions and onto the streets.
If Labour is to fight for a one nation Britain, it must not only seek to bring together different ethnicities, religious communities, income groups and genders, but also find a way to ensure young people get a fair deal in our society.
As you’d expect in a policy area so fundamental to both social justice and young people, the Young Fabians have been at the forefront of the debate about what these trends mean for our generation, and what can be done to mitigate, compensate for or prepare the ‘millennial’ generation for the rough ride ahead. Through a unique process of consultation over the past year, the Young Fabians have brought together leading politicians, academics, journalists and young people to discuss the issues and develop a series of practical policy proposals.
These ideas are bought together in a new pamphlet, Generation Crisis, which will be launched at the Fabian Society Annual Conference this weekend. In it, we hope to provide an insight into how young people themselves view and understand the challenges facing them. We also set out some of the best and most exciting ideas emerging from discussions about how to tackle these issues in a creative and youth-friendly way.
As those in their teens and 20s bear the brunt of the challenges facing us as a society, we hope Generation Crisis will help set the bar higher in terms of including young people in the discourse at the national level. Young people are the experts when it comes to the problems affecting their own lives. They must be, and deserve to be, part of the solution.